If you are an older adult, care for one or have one in your life, you should care about influenza, commonly called the flu. People age 65 and older are at increased risk for flu complications because their immune systems perform less effectively as they age. According to a study cited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), upwards of 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people age 65 and older, and up to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur among those in this age group. Everyone should be serious about the flu to protect themselves and others from its complications.
Influenza and its symptoms
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Unlike a cold, flu symptoms typically come on suddenly. People with the flu may experience some or all of these flu symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
Some people may experience respiratory symptoms without a fever or have vomiting and diarrhea. Gastrointestinal issues are more common in children than in adults.
Flu-related health complications
Although flu symptoms typically last from a few days to a week or more, adults age 65 and older, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health issues can be at high risk for serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes death.
Those with chronic lung disease are at an increased risk for pneumonia when they have the flu. People who have asthma may experience asthma attacks when they have the flu, and those with chronic heart disease may see their condition worsen with the flu. While sinus and ear infections can be moderate complications from the flu, more serious complications can be inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissue or multiple organ failure.
Importance of flu vaccinations
The best way to protect seniors and others from contracting the flu is to get a flu shot each year. The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a seasonal flu vaccine by the end of October if possible or anytime during the winter flu season. Immunity from the flu typically occurs approximately two weeks after a flu shot. Because flu vaccines change each year based on the expected flu strains and flu immunity lessens over a year, getting a flu shot each year is important to maximizing flu protection.
Other flu-protection strategies include washing your hands often, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing (coughing into a bent elbow keeps your hands germ-free) and avoiding those who are sick. If you are sick, it’s best to stay home to avoid infecting others.
Flu vaccines for seniors
The CDC recommends two injectable vaccines that are specifically formulated to provide extra flu protection to people age 65 and older:
- High-dose vaccine: This vaccine contains four times more flu antigen than the vaccine designed for other age groups and provides a stronger immune response after vaccination. In a clinical trial, people age 65 and older who received this vaccine experienced 24% fewer influenza infections than those who received the standard flu vaccine.
- FLUAD™ adjuvanted flu vaccine: This vaccine creates a stronger immune response to vaccination and a study showed it to be 63% more effective than unadjuvanted flu shots.
These high-dose flu vaccines may cause greater side effects than those experienced after regular-dose flu shots, including pain, redness or swelling at the injection site; headache; muscle ache; and general discomfort. The nasal spray flu vaccine, intradermal flu shot and jet injector flu vaccine are not recommended for seniors.
Flu vaccinations are available at physician offices, medical facilities, pharmacies and many continuing care facilities. Here at the Courville Communities, we offer flu shots to both our residents and staff free of charge.
Be proactive with flu protection
To help seniors avoid the sometimes debilitating or deadly complications of the flu, making sure they and those they interact with get a flu shot each year can make all the difference.